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Unveiling the 7 Mechanisms of Leaky Gut

December 20, 2023

In the intricate web of the human body, the gut plays a pivotal role in maintaining overall health. However, when the delicate balance within the digestive system is disrupted, it can lead to a condition known as Leaky Gut Syndrome. This phenomenon occurs when the intestinal barrier becomes compromised, allowing undigested particles and toxins to pass into the bloodstream, triggering inflammation and a cascade of health issues. Let’s delve into the seven mechanisms contributing to Leaky Gut and explore how Dr. Autoimmune’s functional medicine approach provides a beacon of hope for those seeking relief.

1.Dietary Culprits: Gluten, Dairy, Refined & Processed Foods

The food choices we make wield significant influence over gut health. Gluten, found in wheat and other grains, can trigger an immune response in susceptible individuals. Dairy products may exacerbate inflammation, while refined and processed foods can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria.

Dr. Autoimmune emphasizes personalized dietary intervention to address these specific triggers, for example:

Dairy Products:

Dairy contains proteins like casein and lactose, which can be problematic for some individuals. Casein, for example, may contribute to inflammation and increased intestinal permeability. Additionally, lactose intolerance can lead to digestive discomfort, further stressing the gut. The inflammatory response triggered by these components can compromise the integrity of the gut lining.

Dairy products are known to cross react with human tissues like the pancreas, brain and thyroid!

Refined and Processed Foods:

Refined and processed foods often lack essential nutrients and fiber, promoting an imbalance in gut bacteria. The absence of fiber deprives beneficial bacteria of their preferred fuel butyrate, hindering their growth. Meanwhile, the high levels of sugar and unhealthy fats in processed foods can encourage the proliferation of harmful bacteria, leading to dysbiosis. This dysbiosis, or imbalance in the gut microbiota, weakens the gut barrier, making it more susceptible to permeability.


Gluten, primarily found in wheat, rye, and barley, can trigger an immune response in individuals with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. This immune response can lead to inflammation and damage to the intestinal lining, contributing to leaky gut syndrome. The disruption of the tight junctions between intestinal cells allows unwanted substances to pass through, causing an immune reaction and further inflammation.

Even worse gluten in conventional form (non organic) most likely contains glyphosate (round up) which acts as a “xenobiotic”, disrupting the microbe further!

At Dr. Autoimmune, we identify and eliminate inflammatory foods, promoting gut-healing nutrients, and addressing underlying issues such as imbalances in gut bacteria. We use a personalized approach to optimize an individual’s diet, aiming to reduce inflammation and support overall gut health.

2.Medications: Antibiotics, PPIs, Steroids

Certain medications, antibiotics, PPI’s and steroids, can indiscriminately wipe out beneficial gut bacteria, contributing to dysbiosis. Medications, particularly antibiotics, play a pivotal role in the intricate ecosystem of the gut, and their impact on gut health goes beyond their intended therapeutic effects.

Antibiotics, designed to combat bacterial infections, can inadvertently disrupt the delicate balance of the gut microbiota, indiscriminately eliminating not only harmful bacteria but also beneficial ones. This disturbance in microbial equilibrium, termed dysbiosis, is closely linked to the phenomenon of Leaky Gut.

In the realm of gastrointestinal health, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like omeprazole, commonly prescribed for managing conditions such as acid reflux, introduce another layer of complexity. PPIs work by reducing stomach acid production, alleviating symptoms of acid-related disorders. However, the reduction in gastric acid levels can compromise the integrity of the gut lining. This weakening of the gut barrier may contribute to Leaky Gut, allowing substances that would normally be contained within the digestive system to escape into the bloodstream.

Steroids, recognized for their potent anti-inflammatory properties, are often utilized to address inflammation in various parts of the body. Unfortunately, while these medications effectively target inflammation, they may exert unintended consequences on gut health. They not only can disrupt the delicate balance of the gut microbiota, they also can compromise the integrity of the intestinal lining. This dual impact makes them potential contributors to the development or exacerbation of Leaky Gut.

At Dr. Autoimmune, our approach involves a careful assessment of medication history to tailor interventions.

3.Infections: H. Pylori, E. Coli, Dysbiosis

Infections like H. pylori and E. coli, along with dysbiosis, contribute to Leaky Gut Syndrome by directly damaging the intestinal lining. These pathogens disrupt tight junctions between epithelial cells, increase inflammation, and compromise the mucosal barrier. E. coli, in particular, produces toxins that harm the intestinal lining.

Dysbiosis, an imbalance in gut microbiota, further elevates permeability by altering the production of protective short-chain fatty acids.

Additionally, H. pylori interferes with the stomach’s mucus layer, weakening the mucosal defense. The immune response triggered by these infections can result in inflammatory damage to the intestinal lining. Collectively, these mechanisms lead to increased permeability, allowing harmful substances to enter the bloodstream and cause systemic effects.

At Dr. Autoimmune, we conduct thorough testing to identify specific pathogens. We then develop a targeted plan, which may include antimicrobial agents, probiotics, and dietary modifications to restore balance in the gut microbiome. Additionally, we focus on strengthening the overall immune system to help the body effectively combat these infections and promote long-term gut health.

4.Stress: Cortisol, Adrenaline

Chronic stress has profound effects on the body, particularly on the intricate relationship between the mind and the gut. The stress response involves the release of cortisol and adrenaline, hormones that prepare the body for a “fight or flight” scenario. While this response is crucial for survival, persistent stress can lead to detrimental consequences, especially in the gut.

When the body is under chronic stress, cortisol and adrenaline levels remain elevated for extended periods, disrupting the delicate balance in the gut.

One way stress contributes to the development of a Leaky Gut is through the impact on the intestinal barrier. The intestinal barrier serves as a protective layer, regulating the passage of substances between the gut and the bloodstream. Elevated cortisol levels, typical in chronic stress, can compromise the integrity of this barrier. Cortisol weakens the tight junctions between intestinal cells, allowing unwanted particles to pass through, leading to increased permeability or “leakiness”.

Simultaneously, adrenaline, another stress hormone, further exacerbates this situation. Adrenaline redirects blood flow away from the digestive system to vital organs involved in the fight-or-flight response. This reduced blood supply to the gut can impair its ability to repair and maintain a robust barrier.

As the intestinal barrier weakens, undigested food particles, toxins, and bacteria can enter the bloodstream, triggering an immune response and inflammation. This chronic inflammation is linked to various gastrointestinal issues, contributing to the development or exacerbation of conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

5.Hormonal Influence: Thyroid, Estrogen, Testosterone, Progesterone

Hormones play a crucial role in maintaining the delicate balance of the gastrointestinal system, and their influence extends to the development of Leaky Gut. When thyroid hormones, such as thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), are imbalanced, it can lead to alterations in gut permeability. The thyroid directly regulates the metabolism and turnover of gut epithelial cells, impacting the integrity of the gut barrier.

Estrogen, a key sex hormone, also influences gut health. Fluctuations in estrogen levels, particularly during menstrual cycles or hormonal changes, can affect the tight junctions between intestinal cells. This hormonal variability may contribute to increased intestinal permeability, allowing unwanted substances to pass through the gut lining.

Similarly, testosterone and progesterone, which are primarily associated with male and female reproductive systems, respectively, have implications for gut function. Imbalances in these hormones can disrupt the harmony of the gut barrier, compromising its ability to regulate the passage of nutrients and preventing the infiltration of harmful substances.

At Dr. Autoimmune, we tailor interventions to address hormonal imbalances, acknowledging the interconnectedness of the body’s systems.

6.Metabolic Factors: Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance, characterized by difficulty in metabolizing glucose, can contribute to fatigue after meals, sugar cravings, and hypoglycemia. These symptoms are indicative of disruptions in glucose regulation and energy metabolism.

Beyond these immediate effects, insulin resistance also sets off a cascade of events that can impact gut health. Elevated blood sugar levels resulting from insulin resistance lead to increased production of pro-inflammatory molecules, fostering chronic inflammation. This inflammatory state can compromise the integrity of the intestinal lining, contributing to Leaky Gut syndrome.

At Dr. Autoimmune, our approach involves dietary interventions to address insulin resistance as well as cutting edge technologies like the Libre 3 continuous glucose monitor which indicates real time blood sugar readings, helping metabolic health and reducing strain on the gut.

7.Neurologic Factors: Trauma, Concussions, Emotional Trauma

Trauma, whether physical or emotional, can disrupt the delicate balance of the gut-brain axis. In the case of concussions, the physical trauma triggers inflammatory responses through the vagus nerve, extending to the gut and compromising the integrity of the intestinal barrier. Additionally, adverse childhood experiences contribute to chronic stress, altering gut-brain communication and promoting inflammation in the digestive system. Both pathways—concussions and adverse childhood experiences—contribute to increased gut permeability, fostering conditions conducive to the % of taking the trio and we think you can change Your life as well! Click here to learn more about this amazing Trio.

Dr. Autoimmune’s integrative approach acknowledges the interconnectedness of the body’s systems, offering a personalized roadmap to recovery. As patients follow these custom plans, incorporating dietary interventions, targeted supplements, and lifestyle recommendations, they often witness a reduction in inflammation and dramatic improvements in symptoms. By nurturing the fundamental functions of the digestive tract, inflammation is reduced, and patients often experience dramatic improvements in symptoms.

As we continue to unravel the complexities of Leaky Gut, the integrative and personalized approach championed by Dr. Autoimmune shines as a testament to the power of functional medicine in restoring balance and fostering lasting health.

Click here to set up your appointment with Dr. Ian Hollaman DC, MSc, IFMCP aka Dr. Autoimmune. We are 100% remote which means anyone (and their gut) can heal from anywhere.

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